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US-based biotech company IONTOX and British American Tobacco have entered into a collaboration to develop a lung-liver-lung model with a simulated blood system to study the impact of tobacco and nicotine products on lung health.

Cigarette smoking is associated with a number of diseases that can impact the lung, such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. COPD is a progressive form of lung disease ranging from mild to severe that is characterized by a restriction of airflow into and out of the lungs that makes breathing difficult.  The mechanisms by which these diseases develop are not completely understood.

IONTOX is currently developing a model that simulates multiple human organs with a simulated blood system.   This collaboration will seek to understand the impact of the liver on tobacco and nicotine mixtures and how this impacts lung health.

Multiple organ plate

The collaboration will use a multiple organ plate consisting of a human lung model linked to a human liver model to investigate what chemicals are passed from the lung to the liver and then back to the lung following exposure.  When chemicals reach the liver they are often broken down or metabolised. These break-down compounds are then returned to the blood system, which eventually brings them back to the lung.  The question is whether any of the original compounds inhaled into the lung are converted into potentially more toxic intermediates in the liver and what impact this has on lung health?

‘This product provides the first system that can test the fate and effects of drugs, chemicals, and personal care products in a multi-organ environment with a fluidics system that mimics blood flow,’ said Dr. James McKim Founder and President of IONTOX.

‘We are excited to be collaborating with scientists at British American Tobacco on the development of a human lung-liver-lung kinetic model for studying next generation tobacco and nicotine products.  The knowledge and experience that they bring to the project in the area of lung models and inhalation exposure systems will be invaluable to the success of this endeavour,’ he said.

Dr. Marianna Gaca, Pre-Clinical Assessment Manager at British American Tobacco added: ‘We are pleased to be collaborating with IONTOX to develop and apply dynamic multiple-organ-plate technologies.  This approach will complement and enhance our current in vitro methods and support the assessment of e-cigarettes and other next generation tobacco heated products.’

Many in the public health community believe that e-cigarettes represent an historical opportunity to save millions of lives and drastically reduce the public health burden of smoking-related diseases.  Public Health England, an executive body of the UK Department of Health, recently published a report saying that the current expert estimate is that using e-cigarettes is around 95% safer than smoking cigarettes, although more research is needed.  The Royal College of Physicians have said that the public can be reassured that e-cigarettes are much safer then smoking and that they should be widely promoted as an alternative to conventional cigarettes.